Hay vs Straw...The battle of the grasses

backyard farming gardening growing healthy houston mulch Organic

If you have read any blog post from me or follow me on Instagram, then you know how serious I am about the importance of mulching and all of the benefits. A couple of easy organic mulching options to come across are Hay and straw.  The only problem is that they look similar and people are sometimes confused about which one to use in the garden.  Each has its use in the garden. 

First, let us start by explaining something.  Hay and straw are not the same things, and they are not available everywhere.  Hay is generally a legume or grass that has been cut and dried.  Hay still has the seeds attached to the stalks.  Straw, on the other hand, is the remnant stalks from harvested grains such as oak, wheat, and barley.   Which of these options is available in your region is dependent on what crops the big time farmers grow.  Down in Houston, we have Gulf Coast hay.  If you want straw, you have to drive to a specific feed store, right outside of the city. The straw is trucked in from Kansas.  If you do not know let me tell you, I prefer to support and buy local


For starters, we can talk about color.  Since hay is a grass, it has a green hue.  It has a seed pod attached to the top of the stalk and is not hollow as straw.  Due to the seeds, hay has more nutritional value than straw and is capable of being used as animal feed.  On the downside, due to the seeds hay has the potential to sprout when used as mulch in the garden.  Since it is denser than straw hay has the capability of retaining more moisture.  This retained moisture can lead to molding not paying attention, so be careful when using it as animal bedding.


Straw is a golden brown color, and the remnant stalks from harvested grains such as oak, wheat, and barley.  Since it is a leftover product, straw is usually cheaper than hay.   Since there are minimal if any seeds still attached to the stalk heads, straw makes an excellent mulch choice.  Since straw is hollow, it is far less likely to retain moisture and mold.  That is one reason why the primary use of straw is animal bedding.


Many people say that straw is a better choice for mulch than hay.  I guess that depends on what you're looking for?  After removing the seed heads, straw has less mineral value than hay.  If you're solely looking for a ground cover than by all means, choose straw.  I want my ground cover to decompose and add as much nutrient and mineral value to the soil as possible. Therefore I prefer hay.  I am aware of the seed and the possibility of seeds sprouting, but there is a simple but time-consuming method to combat that issue.  To deal with seed sprouting, buy hay and set it to the side in your yard.  These hay bales will sit there and sprout grasses.  Rotate the bundles over to the side where the grass is growing to smother the grass and let the other side germinate and grow.  Repeat this process a few times.  By the time you go to put the hay down in the garden, most of the seeds capable of sprouting have been smothered, and the hay is starting to breakdown and release nutrients.  This process, although time-consuming helps to alleviate the issue of unwanted sprouts in your garden beds, or wherever you use the hay.   You have to plan and purchase your hay in advance to receive the benefits  

Whether you decide to use hay or straw make sure that you are buying from a reputable supplier.  Whenever possible try to source organic materials.  The herbicides used on the hay and straw have the propensity to linger around.  This chemical presence can stop seeds you planted in your garden from sprouting due to the chemicals leaching out of the hay or straw into the planting area.  Also, remember we are looking for quality over quantity.  Inferior quality products will harbor more weed seeds and can end up being more hassle than they are worth.  I mean could you imagine having to pull weeds from your mulch, that’s the opposite of productive. 

Just my thoughts.

-Let’s Grow Together-


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